The second largest entertainment center in the United States is playing host to
Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Well, in reality, four performers portraying those icons of rock and roll, in a stage show that attempts to duplicate the one time that the four actually did get together for an informal rock session.
In October of 2011, “Million Dollar Quartet” began it’s long running trip around the country here, where Presley and Lewis were among our Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s charter inductees, and were soon joined by Perkins and Cash.
It’s December 4, 195. Four emerging music icons, all of whom were good old Southern boys, identified and molded by Sam Phillips, were in his Memphis Sun Studios. They ad-libbed an evening of gospel, blues and rock ‘n roll music. The event was chronicled by a reporter from the “Memphis Press-Scimitar.” The next day the article discussing the event stated, “This quartet could sell a million.” Little did the reporter realize that though that number sounded like a lot, this quartet would go on to sell many, many millions, and become individual musical icons.
Whether the actions happened exactly as portrayed is not known, but the fact that there was such a jam session is a reality. A recording of the session, and a picture of the four, documented the event and became the basis for the musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.
The touring production, under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, is basically on target. The production is generally enveloping and filled with humor (mainly provided by John Countryman who portrays Jerry Lee Lewis) and a little drama. And, of course, there is a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
The stage literally explodes with hit after hit, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “I Walk the Line.” Then, there was a curtain call which features the likes of “Hound Dog,” “Riders in the Sky,” and “See You Later Alligator.”
This is a hard show to cast. The performers need to look like, sound like, and play musical instruments with perfection. The original assemblage fulfilled these requirements. This cast doesn’t quite do so.
Tyler K. Hunter is much heftier than the Elvis we knew at the early stages of his career, and though he sounds a lot like the king, and has the hip swivels and the pelvis thrusts, he’s missing the famous heavy eye-lidded stare and Elvis’s sensual attitude. The last line heard from the stage at the conclusion of the production was, “And Elvis has left the building.” In actuality, Tyler K. Hunter left the building.
The crowd-pleasing John Countryman, though he doesn’t look anything like Jerry Lee Lewis, portrayed the undisciplined, uber-talented pianist and singer, with dynamism. He is electric on stage, hardly able to contain the character’s twitching, jumping, ADHD persona.
Dressed in Johnny Cash’s signature black uniform, Scott Moreau’s deep and mellow voice and handsome dark features, helps create a nice characterization.
The alcoholic and conflicted Carl Perkins, known as the King of Rock-a-billie, was on a rocket shot to fame until he was eclipsed by Presley, including having the Perkins-written “Blue Suede Shoes,” sung by the King on the Ed Sullivan show when Perkins became ill and couldn’t perform. James Barry physically and vocally brings Perkins alive.
Vince Nappo gives a human portrayal of Sam Phillips, Stephanie Lynne Mason is fine as Presley’s girl friend of the moment. Corey Kaiser is tantalizing as bass player, Jay Perkins, Carl’s brother. He plays a mean bass! David Sonneborn is great on the drums.
Capsule judgement: Though it doesn’t have the fidelity of the original staging of “Million Dollar Quartet”, if you are a rock and roll fan, you will enjoy the production now at the Ohio. It is a fun and enlightening evening of theatre filled with great music and some excellent performances. Yes, “Memories Are Made of This!”
“Million Dollar Quartet” plays the Palace through July 27, 2014. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.